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It was a bitterly cold mid-February morning as we drove along the A6 past the pretty Peak District village of Ashford in the Water looking for the nearby, roadside White Lodge car park a mile or so further along, set among trees that were dusted in white by the frost. The morning sun glinted on the River Wye alongside the road, and just a hint of mist hovered above the water.
There were half a dozen early-bird cars already there, and a hardy couple breakfasting at one of the picnic tables up the hillside, their breath turning to steam. We walked below them on the footpath, heading away from the road and towards a wooded, steep hillside. Here, after an initial rocky scramble beside a stream, we found ourselves following a climbing path which eventually levelled off halfway up the tree line and wound along nicely with the sunlight picking its way through the winter-bare branches.
The ground was frozen hard as the path eventually descended to meet the bank of the Wye and follow it downstream, past a derelict mill with a rusting water wheel at either side and continuing to pass through fields until it met a narrow road.
We followed this to the pavement beside the busy A6 and walked along to Sheepwash Bridge at Ashford (the stone sheep pen beside the bridge, with a gap in the wall providing access to the river, gives it its name).
A lovely little place, Ashford in the Water, with its riverside weeping willows and pretty stone cottages. We walked up through the village from the bridge and headed up Vicarage Lane to the very top of the place, with wide-open rolling countryside ahead of us.
We had walked through some of that countryside on another occasion, after following the Monsal Trail along the disused railway line from Bakewell. We were to encounter that trail again later on this walk. But meanwhile there was a long, climbing, lovely track through fields to follow.
The views grew better and better the higher we plodded. The woes of the world seemed far, far away. Unfortunately, though, the ground grew wetter and wetter as the strengthening sun did its work. As the path levelled out, walking became slightly heavier going.
Our route had turned north now, and we could see the buildings of Monsal Head not far distant. Several walkers passed us, heading in the opposite direction. We sat for a while on a seat above Monsal Dale, peering through the trees at the path we would eventually be following.
When we arrived at Monsal Head after nearly an hour of relative solitude we were surprised to find a large, packed car park, scores of people, and an ice-cream van! What a popular weekend beauty spot this is. And it's hardly surprising.
The hamlet stands above a hairpin bend on the course of the River Wye. Upstream is the broad-ish green valley of Upperdale, with the Monsal Trail heading along it from the viaduct immediately below. And downstream is the steep-sided, wooded Monsal Dale where we were to head.
The path, with a handrail beside it, led down into the trees and eventually fetched up on the riverbank, where our route soon crossed a footbridge to the far side.
This was a well-used, wide and on this day muddy path, made even wider as people tried to avoid the build-up of mud under their boots that can make them so treacherous. In summer it will be a joy to stroll down there admiring the scenery. On this winter's day, though, it was hard work. If we wanted to admire, we had to stop walking and stand still.
At the end of the path a stile led to stepping stones across a convenient stream, ideal for a bootwash before walking the last few yards to the road and the car park beyond.
Mud or no mud, we agreed that it had been a five-star walk filled with variety.
Step by Step
- Leave White Lodge car park by going left on path that diagonally crosses grassy bank above it. Ignore indistinct fork to right and continue along main path to meet stream and pick your way up it briefly, crossing it and going through stile. Keep ahead on path, following waymark signs for Ashford as it swings right and then left up hillside and eventually enters wood via a stile. Continue ahead through wood to descend eventually to river bank. Follow river downstream to stile into narrow road. Turn left to main road, then right into Ashford, crossing A6 (with great care) to Sheepwash Bridge.
- Walk over bridge and up street beyond, swinging slightly right into Vicarage Lane just past car park and toilets sign. Follow this lane as it curves round to left and eventually arrives immediately beyond houses at a junction of roads and tracks.
- Go sharp left here, into walled track. Follow this as it rises gently to eventually arrive at a stile by a gate. Through this, walk up field with wall on left to another stile at top. Turn right here, and walk along fieldside to another walled path and soon emerge at seats above Monsal Dale. Keep ahead with wall on right to eventually arrive at Monsal Head.
- From here, head almost back in direction you've just come from, but taking right fork down gently descending path with handrail. Follow this path down through wood until it arrives at riverbank by waterfall. Walk downstream to footbridge.
- Cross footbridge, turn left and follow path down dale until it heads away from water to fence stile and stepping stones and continues up short field to road near bus stop and lay-by. Cross road (again with great care) to return to car park.
- Start: White Lodge car park on A6 Bakewell-Buxton road, 1 miles west of Ashford in the Water (alternative starts at Ashford and Monsal Head).
- Time for six-mile walk: three hours.
- Going: moderate.
- Map: OS Explorer OL24, Peak District White Peak Area.
- Parking: pay-and-display at White Lodge.
- Toilets: at Ashford and Monsal Head car parks.
- Refreshments: in Ashford and at Monsal Head.